He/she who controls the origin has the power.
Apparently Geoff Johns won’t give up the Flashpoint timeline, and now he’s using it (if theories are to be believed) to give the Joker a name. Fully embracing the above statement, Johns has altered the origin for Barry Allen’s Flash, 90s clone Superboy, Billy “he’ll always be Captain Marvel to me, not Shazam” Batson, and even the Green Lantern Corp. Am I the only one realizing Johns is slowly remaking the DC universe backstory his own creation?
So in the Flashpoint timeline it’s Bruce who dies. Thomas Wayne becomes Batman while Martha goes crazy and become that reality’s version of the Joker. In a recent story from Flashpoint Beyond, aka we won’t let this event that rewrote the DC universe for Dan DiDio’s Darker DC die already, Martha meets a guy in Arkham who in the proper course of events would have become the Joker, and he has a name. That name… might as well be Jimmy Crackcorn because I don’t CARE!
Giving the Joker a “real name” is not something new to Johns the origin absorber (if I come off too harsh I’m not feeling good and I’m close to crunch time so my apologies) mind you. Alan Moore in The Killing Joke, Tim Burton in his first Batman movie, and Todd Philips in his anti-comic book “Joker” film all tried to give the clown prince of crime an origin and real name. None of them are the same name mind you but that doesn’t matter because any attempt to give the Joker a name besides The Joker is showing a total lack of understanding of how the Joker works narratively. In short: the Joker shouldn’t have a “real name” at all.
There are villains who can work with an origin. I don’t like most of the ones given to Skeletor, especially the latest ones, and I’m not a fan of any of the origins of Megatron outside of the original cartoon and Marvel comic’s conflicting origins. However, I can see those two, supposedly two-dimensional kids show villains, getting a decent origin…though please stop trying to give them a sympathetic one, please. I’m not supposed to sympathize or relate to the villains. There are serial killers in fiction off to murder the people who bullied them in high school, and as a former bully victim I do not sympathize or relate to them because I don’t believe in killing. I’m even friends in my adult years with some of my former bullies as they matured and grew a conscience and I had time to shake off most of their damage. I’m not supposed to sympathize with a villain, which apparently DC wants to you do now as they keep trying to make stories where the bad guy is the hero or possibly anti-hero. I live in a world where both Lex Luthor and Black Adam have been members of the Justice League without actually reforming and I’m not okay with this.
The Joker is a force of nature, chaos given the form of a mad clown who uses comedy as a lethal weapon. One caper he’s after money, the next after a body count, and the next he wants to patent a type of fish. There is no rationality to the Joker. That’s what makes him such a threat to Gotham City in general and the Bat-Family specifically. He’s human by birth and biology and not much else. That’s kind of the point.
To even give the Joker a name is to humanize him, thus taking away some of that threat. Even that whole “three Jokers” thing manages to screw this up because it means the Joker isn’t what he seems, and that’s a good way to weaken a perfect villain. It’s that unpredictably, that allegiance with chaos, that makes the Joker the threat he is. To do otherwise is to take something away from the Joker and what he brings to the Bat-Family comics and stories. Telling us he’s some agent of the Lords Of Chaos, an actual force in the DC universe, would cause the same issue. It’s that not-knowing of who he is, how he manages to cheat death at the end of the story and show up again, and what he’s doing from one crime to the next that makes him so interesting and so dangerous to our heroes.
However, the origin masters like Johns don’t see that. The villain lovers don’t see that, either. For reasons I simply cannot understand too many writers today want us to connect with the villain…unless they’re part of the “wrong think” on social and political issues of course. Heroes take on villain traits and villains keep the same traits but are welcomed by the hero anyway. We’re supposed to see our struggles in the villains, which is not the purpose of the villain. Slap the right hat on Joker and maybe they’d agree but the purpose of the villain is not to live our struggles but to BE our struggles, the mountains we climb in life. Through the hero we see those problems overcome, that you can come out on top or at least get something positive from the struggle to improve yourself or someone else’s life. The villain represents what we need to overcome, so making the villain like us is to ruin the effect of the villain in the theme of hero versus villain and good versus evil.
Here’s all we need to know about the Joker: he was a criminal called The Red Hood, who fell into a vat of chemicals, became scarred both physically and mentally, decided he looked like the joker card from a deck of playing cards. The idea of a joker card comes from the game euchre but would show up in other card games with different functions. Essentially the Joker is a “wild card” and that’s what the Joker character is, the wild card of Batman’s rogues gallery. There’s a reason Bob Kane and Bill Finger (Jerry Robinson responsible for suggesting part of his look use be inspired by the killer from the 1928 film The Man Who Laughs) didn’t give him more than that, and even then it wasn’t until a later appearance because the Joker was supposed to die in his debut story, much like The Shredder and some other villains that someone saw potential in and gave a get out of death free card to. In fact here’s his origin, from when a fake Red Hood took on the Joker’s crime spree.
Being a former lab worker explains the “Joker toxin” he uses in his murders, that make the target die with a smile (and in some versions even die laughing), the chemical bath, nowadays treated as an accident with or without encountering Batman, explains why he looks the way he does and his madness. That’s all the origin you need. The Joker shouldn’t be humanized. It would ruin his chaotic nature and make him less interesting as a villain. I could even make the case we know too much about him given his role in Bat-lore.
So writers, stop trying to write the Joker’s full origin (also stop making him a crazy dude in make-up because that’s weak) and just let him be the chaotic force of nature that he is. It’s that lack of backstory that makes him seem more fearsome, makes him not relatable as a person but as an obstacle we all face in life. The Joker’s inhumanity is a benefit, so let him be the Joker. That’s the way he likes it.